Navigating Genderqueer in Suburbia

I live in a Blue State. But the attitudes that I encounter here regarding anything other than hetero-cis-male/female are decidedly NOT along the lines of what most democrats/liberals usually are. While you can certainly have anti-gay Democrats, I kind of thought that the generalization was that most anti-gays are Republican. I guess not. But then again, I tend to ignore politics.

I encounter SO much intolerance here that it’s unreal. Finding sex blogs was an education for me in so many many ways because of how I was raised and the attitudes I grew up being surrounded by. Meaning, gays and lesbians and genderqueers and stone butches and anything at all against societal norms were giggled at. Stared at. Talked about. Feared. Shunned. I will possibly lynch myself here by saying that for a while (until I was exposed to other cultures and genders and attitudes) I didn’t understand butch lesbians. Or, more accurately, I didn’t understand the femmes who dated a butch lesbian. The very uneducated thought being “but if they like women, why are they dating a woman who looks and acts like a man?”. Acceptance can only come with education or a lack of UNacceptance growing up.

Kyle first addressed this (by first I mean in my little circle of blogs that live in my Google Reader) on his blog, talking about how strangers address him in public, which gender pronoun they assign…..his real-life name could technically go either way but is probably more used as a female name; while his outward appearance is nearly all boy. Transgendered folks beg and plead and sometimes demand acceptance, to be recognized as they want to be recognized and not shoved in the wrong box. But pray tell how do the rest of us navigate it? How the hell am I supposed to know if you identify as male or just like dressing like one? Is a cross-dressing straight male going to be offended if I use a male pronoun while they’re out in drag, or would they be more offended if I used a female pronoun? Do I say Sir or Ma’am? Of course the *lack* of gender-identifiers is obvious as well. If I were publicly talking to/about a cis-female, I would never say “this *person* needs help with something”. No, I’d say “this lady needs help with something”.

I spoke with Kyle / picked his brain about this and asked for his opinion. His suggestion is to just respectfully ask how they prefer to be addressed. I see that tactic going south, as well, if you happen to ask it of a person who does not see themselves as “genderqueer”, who are offended that you would question their gender.

Last spring it was very noticed that a transitioning MTF worked in our building. Any time they (and here I go doing it again, “they”) walked by, the stares came out and the talking and the giggling and the overall unacceptance. She was bravely going public in her transition but wasn’t quite “passing”. She held her head high though and ignored as best as one can tell.

In my new offices there is a FTM whose cubicle still holds his given (female) name. But until others corrected me when I referred to him as male, I wouldn’t have known that he is transgendered. Not a clue, since he passes very well. The people who don’t know are always corrected by the people who “know”. The looks, the raised eyebrows, the uneducated and unforgiving. But then…..then I think about it. And overthink it. If he was trying to pass as male….wouldn’t he have changed to a more masculine name? So does his lack of doing so mean he does NOT want to be referred to as male? I’m confused. I don’t want to offend.

But moreso than not wanting to offend that one person is my disgust with my co-workers and their reaction. All ages, male and female are doing it. Usually I keep my mouth shut,  I don’t say a word to stop their bad behaviour. I need to start being better on that front. While I know damn well I don’t educate any of these people, I can at least do…….something. But I don’t know what.

8 Responses

  1. I feel ya. My guess would be if your co-worker is ftm then it would be appropriate to use the traditional male pronouns. But, honestly, I would just ask. All of the trans folks I know (and I know quite a few) get tired of being a spectacle but they really do appreciate when someone cares enough to say: “What is your preferred pronoun?” You don’t have to say more than that.

    I’ve written about this here:

    And, my friends writes an excellent blog about it here:

  2. Joker_SATX says:

    It is the same with any type of prejudice. Regardless of whether we are speaking of sexuality or ethnicity or religion…it doesn’t matter. There are two sides to this level of prejudice. The first is the obvious which you have pointed out. But the second is the not so obvious.

    Black History Month
    The Gay Rights Parade
    Hispanic Appreciation Day

    These are examples of how cultures single themselves out to be picked on. Don’t believe me? Why not have an:

    Armenian Appreciation Month?
    A Heterosexual Parade?
    Scandinavian Appreciation Day?
    A Wicca Yule?

    Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? I think that we will start arriving as a species and really succeed when we realize that under all the covers we are all the same.

    For example, in Politics. They will never get anything done as Republicans and Democrats. Never. However, if they all banded together and got creative to solve people problems with their strengths and a little give and take, you will find that Bi-Partisanship can really work.

    Lets first think of ourselves as human…first and foremost. We all have common ground there. We are happy the same, we cry the same, we bleed the same, we get sick the same…lots of common ground.

    Then we look at ourselves as individuals…our culture…our beliefs, etc. Only then can we conquer all the obstacles ahead of us. And will will put some of the human made obstacles aside as well.

    Sorry for the long comment….Good post!

  3. daniel says:

    Even the blue states are pretty purple. I, for example, live in a tiny blue island of a VERY red part of a slightly blue state. So it’s hard to know what to expect sometimes…


  4. SK says:

    Sending you positive energy to deal with life’s hiccups

  5. Nemo says:

    Your state is blue, L, but only because of two large metro areas (urban centers generally trend blue). Setting aside those islands, the rest of the state is awash in red. There’s a very good reason it’s referred to as [city] and [city] with Kentucky in between. The larger area in which you live falls squarely in the ‘Kentucky’ zone. To be frank, you are surrounded by rednecks.

    That’s not a bash against rednecks, self-professed or otherwise. But traditionally the vast majority are greatly unsettled by non hetero-normative behavior. Knowing that, even those more apt to be ‘broad minded’ on their own are likely to quickly affiliate themselves with the straight and narrow crowd for fear of being lumped in with the ‘queers’. It’s sad but true- In my experience, most of the prejudice stems from fear; Fear of being ostracised, fear of being considered gay, and yes, fear of BEING gay. And that’s hardly unique to redneck country, as the recent revelations about a certain California state senator seem to illustrate.

    ~ LOL How can I have lived here and never known this? But oh yes, yes I am surrounded by rednecks. I know of the occasional sex blogger scattered about in the redneck zones but it seems we’re few and far between.

  6. Kyle says:

    Lilly, I’m glad you wrote this post because I you’ve given others a safe space to express their confusion and desire to do the right thing. It’s not black and white, anymore than gender is. And, as I told you in our conversation, I get caught in the same bind that you do when I meet someone who’s gender clues are not ‘typical’. I know what works for me doesn’t work for every genderqueer. I know lots of butches who hate being sirred. I know FTMs who are very much want to have their masculine identity recognized in a respectful way.

    Over time, sexual choices outside the hetero norm have become easier for people to deal with, talk about, even accept but dealing with genders outside the binary continue to be a confusing, scary and, often, unrecognized phenomena. And, as one of your commenters pointed out, the right-wing, straight homophobes don’t have the corner on being disrespectful to those of us who are gender-queer in some way. We could probably come up with a lot of reasons for why people behave that way when confronted by something new: fear, unease, nervousness, worry over how to address the person, worry that another person’s choices will somehow reflect back on them, etc. etc. Human beings in general don’t react well to change.

    Posts like this, with the associated comments and conversations, help us all. Becoming aware of genders outside the binary is the first step, then it’s up to each of us to learn what we can. I know for myself, as I became more and more aware of the grey areas of gender, it actually because more confusing for a while. Is that woman butch, or genderqueer or FTM? Will I get a smile or a scowl if I refer to that person as a guy? And I can’t use my own preferences as a guide, because my choices are mine alone. So, Lilly, thank you for continuing the conversation and for being open and respectful. You are setting a great example.

  7. adriana says:

    I… admit that I have a really hard time understanding and accepting the gender identities of others. And it makes me feel so douchey because, here I am, apart of this amazing community which has so much to teach me and I just don’t get it. I am sure it is at least partly because I do not feel strongly about my own gender identity; I identify as female because it makes sense and is the easier course to take and the other options don’t really fit me better.

    I know it’s also due in part to my lack of exposure to varieties of people. A girl from a small city in the midwest just doesn’t have the interactions that someone from Cali or NYC might have with people who identify along all parts of the spectrum.

    And it’s my own problem that I like to use labels. Maybe I just need to learn to expand my labels and be okay with blurred lines. Perhaps it’s difficult because the definitions are personal (as Kyle mentioned, his choices are his alone). I bet I’d understand more if someone said “Look here, at this biological explanation for all sorts of gender identity.”

    Maybe I’m just slow when it comes to reconciling intellectual knowledge and reality.

  8. Altair says:

    I sometimes come across no-win situations. I ask a person their pronown preferance and they launch into a speech that doesn’t answer my original question. I use gender neutral “they” and “them” and a girl gives me a funny look and says, “Can’t you tell I’m female?” I say “Happy Holidays” because I celibrate Yule, even though most of my friends are Christian or similar, and one of them says, “I’m a Jehova’s Witness. I don’t celebrate anything.” Can’t win for losing. Good thing most people are blase about it. Thank goodness New England is liberal and most everthing is treated with a “whatever” and a shrug.
    I did my research, and I know that one cannot tell with absolute certainty “he” from “her” without asking. Sorry, no super-certain-gender-identifying-machine has yet been invented. I’ll pose the idea to the computer-geek/medically inclined friends of mine.